Monthly Archives: January 2013

Mr. R

Wizened brow, puffed eyelids, wet lips, sparse grey hairs. Like a turtle with parched limbs drawn into hunched back. From a yellowing textbook outdated by ten years, he strains out words through his teeth so the “S’s” come out like a long cat’s hiss. “Sa mga estudyante na hindi tumaassssssssssssssssss…” His eyes close after each hiss; the students are lulled and their eyes similarly close.

Suddenly, he shouts. He is angry and complaining of our tired faces. In great anger he pushes his chair, but it moves feebly. Some giggles are heard. Mr. R begins to lament about the demise of youth’s respect to their elders. The anger in his voice is difficult for him to project with his tired windpipe, so the students don’t take him seriously and continue to giggle.

Mr. R leaves the classroom. Where once were amused snickers now falls a shamed silence. P.E. class has ended for today.

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Mother in the Mountain

Clouds breath heavy and thick in blue warm skies. The Sabong rainforest sprawls over gently sloping mountains and deep emerald lush valleys where channels of sweet cold ravine waters meet. Hours of hiking bring us to a small dilapidated nipa hut on top of a mountain. Coconut shells hang on the hut’s rafters, banging lightly against each other with the cool mountain breeze. The house is scrupulously clean though the ground is made of soil, kitchen cloaked with soot and smoke and beds but worn-out linens within colorful mosquito nets.

The Mother of the Mountain holds her three-year old child to her breast. The child suckles and gazes at me with wild curious eyes through sandy tousled locks. Her sister dances around the hut and stops to shyly smile at me. I give her my aqua-blue bracelet and she wears it.

This place is peaceful, like the old Filipino folk song that the mother hums to calm her children as we leave.

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The Dog Hunter

You hear it in the distance. Music for a funeral procession. A slow waltz of violins and cellos mixed with the mournful distorted voices of Filipino singers. Here comes the Dog Hunter. He stands tall in his vehicle of death with a gun in hand while his driver slowly moves past barangay towns, playing the funeral music loudly. The children come out of their homes, crying and afraid as they see the dead stray dogs stringed up to his vehicle’s hood.

“Keep your dogs locked and chained,” he warns. “Or I will shoot them.”

Slogans on his car read “Rabies Prevention”.

He is also our island’s local veterinarian.

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The Island Witch

Dressed in dingy orchid and vine patterned dresses that swing in the breeze like dust-caked window curtains, her hair like oiled rope over sour-creased skin and bitter snap gaze, the Island Witch travels with hands touching spirits and songs foretelling doom.

I am at the jeepney waiting shed. A Filipino boy stands next to me, and we both see the Island Witch approaching with candles in her pockets and flowers in her arms. She calls to me, “You are not Filipino, go back the America” and spits on the rough ground. To the young boy she tells him, “I know your father. He is a drinker down in Sta. Cruz. He beats your mother.” Then she continues down the road. The boy, wide-eyed, reveals to me that he has never before seen the Island Witch, and wonders how she had known this about him.

Sometimes I see her spitting and fighting with local men and woman, throwing shoes or stones. Other times I see her sitting beside a tree, singing songs and laying down flowers for the dead, talking to her unseen friends, lost as if she were living in a perpetually disarrayed dream.

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Island Memories — From the Philippines

About the Montenegro Ferry

Four in the morn’, stars spill
like glitter on dark canvas
high above silver black waves
lapping gently by Balanacan peir.

Montenegro floats like a beast whale
ivory bleach and silver pole,
ribbons of green gold mermaid’s hair
twining her glistening form.

Men and woman, teens and children
line up, purchasing tickets
seating by the open dock
their cups of hot soup
curling steam in the wet salty air.

Montenegro lowers her docking ramp
beckoning passengers and vehicles to enter.

A ferry horn sounds, engines hum
stirring ripples in the water
then rolling waves of power
gathering speed into the ocean
salt wind and spray
cooling, awakening, refreshing.

Whilst mothers bid their children to sit
and men station by the open deck
admiring the flying fish zipping over tidal waters
viewing the small foot islands pass
as Marinduque fades in the distance.

 

Barrio

To a symphony
of songbirds and crickets
and the warm yellow and emerald green
kaleidescope of the rainforest’s
early morning sunrise,
I wake with content
in the barrio.

In oversized shirt and cargos
and rubber chinelas
I pedal my bike
down rainwashed streets
passing children dressed in school uniform;
plaid skirts, khaki pants, white shirts
all who rise early
for their 7AM classes
yearning instead to play
sepak takraw and lusong-tinik
in the barrio.

And at the open-air market
the vendors call out
selling with cheer, and merry laugh
as if every day is Christmas
rice cakes, putu, bibingka
my pesos for their homemade treats
their grins and joking
a priceless gift
in the barrio.

The haggling calls
of fishermans’ wives
cry out from the seafood stalls
carried along with the pungent stench
of tilapia, bangus, shrimp, squid
adding to the overall chaos
of motorbikes and jeepney engines
as the marketplace breaks to life
when the afternoon comes round
in the barrio.

And I ride back home
full of brittle plastic shopping bags
as gangly young men sing harana tunes
to blushing young girls
and busy old men grimace broken tooth grins
chopping down banana fruits
from sagging roadside trees
while their lovely wives
prepare adobong manok
or carneng asada and rice
at their homes’ makeshift clay stoves
in the barrio.

Soon the town falls sleepy
in night’s starry cloak
and the huts and villas
light up softly
with kerosene lamps or candlelight
as the busy husband retires
not to bed but to Pare’s home
where drinks and pulutan
and Kareoke galore
add some humble festivity
of a simple night
in the barrio.

 

Beach Runaways

Mother hasn’t called
for dinner just yet

so they fill their hunger
with joy

two kids, racing
by great beach shores
holes in rubber chinelas
pockets empty of change
but filled
with shells
stones
candy

though
ragged they are
in second-hand clothes
still brightly their smiles
do light their eyes
and sweetly they cry
from dry dust lips
laughter and songs
with the roaring of
the ocean’s shifting waves

Mother calls
for dinner

which can only fill
a cat’s belly full

so they fill their hunger
with joy.

 

Street Flowers

In congested city streets
where smog and smoke
choke the air
and noise like
firecrackers bursting
haphazardly
on a New Year’s eve
deafen the skies
with lost yells
of stressed pedestrains
and vehiclists

a flower girl
hands out
paradise from fingertips
the scent of
sampaguita
jasmine
and gumamela flowers

sifting through
the coarseness and concreteness
of this tumultuous city life

like a flower that grows through
a crack between
grimy pavement streets.

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Teachers

Mr. M

Long legged, tall and thin, he’d walk into the room with an air of aloofness and boredom. Seat himself nonchalantly into a chair a bit too short, and call out names halfheartedly, as if playing with each letter like a toy in his mouth would make his day a bit more amusing.

Occasionally he’ll remark something witty on a student’s name, picking on the shy ones, chancing to see if they’ll remark back. But all they’d do is smile and shrink into their seats, afraid of attention. He’ll look unsurprised and continue tossing out names like casting fishing lines on an unproductive day.

Time for teaching lessons. Those were boring for him, unless it involved emotional, confrontational issues, which his students preferred to stay away from. How sad it was for a teacher to try and tease his students out of what the harsh discipline from other teachers had done to them. For him, tossing ideas into class was like trying to stir ripples in a frozen pond.

So he’d do what seemed to be his saving grace; stray into talking about far, sweetly melancholic, memories. Talk about how he used to ditch school so he could hang out with friends at coconut plantations, where they’d climb trees, steal a few ready fruits, drink their juices, eat their meat beneath the shade. Talk about Segunda, such a pretty name. Segunda, a girl he loved, who thought him only a friend. Segunda, somewhere now on a far island, as far as his memories.

Eventually, class will end. And so will his day. He’ll climb into his small, green buggy, drive to his small house by the school. Answer his cell phone which rang to Mr. Bean’s theme song.

 

Mrs. B

Her last name was as drawlsome as the way she read stories aloud to us. Syllables dripping with snobbish pride. She thought she read with emotion, drawing us in her words like flies to honey. She only succeeded in enhancing the lazy atmosphere of a warm, humid day, and the lull of the overhead ceiling fan.

Favorite way to educate class? Memorization. After the exams, she’ll read aloud the scores. Highest is granted with applause, and a little rant about hard work. Lowest receives this look from her… it’s a smile, very satisfactory, like she’s proved a point. This coming from a teacher who thought Peptobismol was an American dish.

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